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MOSCOW, August 15 (Itar-Tass) - Two hundred women have declared their intention to contest seats in Chechnya’s legislature in the September 8 election. In a republic with centuries-old conservative Islamic traditions this is almost incredible. A total of 776 candidates have applied for taking part in the election campaign. In other words, one in four contenders for being elected to Chechnya’s 41-seat parliament is a lady.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s press-secretary, Alvi Karimov, has told Itar-Tass in an interview there are three women legislators in the republican parliament at the moment. One of them is Russian. He said Ramzan Kadyrov had an “extremely favourable opinion of the participation of women in politics.”
One of Chechnya’s deputy prime ministers is a young Chechen woman, and a deputy minister for territorial development is a Russian woman. Ramzan Kadyrov has three women aides. Karimov agreed, though, that the presence of women in senior positions in politics was not a widely spread phenomenon in Chechnya yet.
“The process is to proceed in an evolutionary way, but it should be accelerated, of course. This is precisely what we have been doing,” he said.
Karimov says that times change and these days young Chechen men in search of a bride invariably take a look at what sort of education the young woman has and what place his spouse will take on the social ladder. “This is important not from the standpoint how much money the woman will be making. The spouse is expected to be a decent member of society,” Karimov said.
Whatever the case, 200 hundred women eager to be elected to Chechnya’s parliament is a sensation. In the Caucasus, women have traditionally had to carry loads of household chores. Moreover, in the Muslim republics of the region - Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia - the woman never dines at the same table with men, even the husband.
Before the establishment of Soviet government in the Caucasus the Chechen people had regarded a working woman as a disgrace for her spouse, who was unable to earn a living. Times fly. These days Chechen women take various jobs and even run their own businesses. Also, they are prepared to take positions in bodies of power.
It is not all that simple, though. Under sharia laws a Chechen father still has every right to kill his daughter for misbehaviour. It also happens that wives of liquidated Chechen militants chose to become suicide bombers. Several Moscow metro blasts and the midair explosions of two passenger liners in August 2004 are examples.
The cult of the man in the Caucasus, in particular, in remote mountain areas, takes various forms. For instance, the woman has no right to sit down in the company of men. I have had a chance of visiting the region as an Itar-Tass correspondent to have some personal experience of this kind. Ten years ago a State Duma member invited me to Dagestan to write a story on the occasion of the 80th birth anniversary of Rasul Gamzatov, a relative of his. Gamzatov, an ethnic Avarian, a poet and public figure, is a cosmic personality in the Caucasus. Part of the festivities were held in a remote mountain village and half of the locals gathered in curiosity around me - an emancipated lady in blue jeans and with a cigarette in hand. Local women never wear jeans or any kind of trousers and surely they never smoke. In the hospitable home of the host I was presented with a valuable gift - a silver cup and saucer - a real work of art by local craftsmen. However, I was not invited to take a seat at the table with men in defiance of my VIP status of a Moscow reporter. I was given to eat something in the kitchen together with the waiters and servants. The food was delicious. Pancake rolls stuffed with chopped beef. I asked what made the pancakes so delicious, and if the local cooks used any pig fat to grease the frying pan. “Oh Allah! Of course not!” was the reply. There were two bodyguards always by my side. They asked me for my impressions. “You have wonderful women,” I said. “Oh, yes. Our women are so glad to dedicate themselves to their home and the family.” “I would have never managed as well,” I remarked. “Why?” I said, “Russian women take care of their homes and families, too. But we also work, we have a say in how to spend the family budget, we plan what buys to make, what repairs should be done to the house, and where the family will go on vacation.” My bodyguards looked stunned. “That’s really weird to hear,” said one.
There are exceptions, of course. In 1995 at some political negotiations with the then president of the self-proclaimed republic of Ichkeria (Chechnya’s name at that time) Aslan Maskhadov I was seated at the same table on his left hand side. I was allowed to sit next to the head of the republic for the sole reason some lady from the Netherlands - a representative of the OSCE mission in Grozny - was on his right hand side. Obviously, Maskhadov felt like a fish out of water.
Slowly but surely stereotypes regarding Chechnya have been fading away. A group of members of the Valdai club - a community of experts under the auspices of Vladimir Putin - made a trip to Ramzan Kadyrov just recently. Before the departure some had felt certain fears. When they got back, though, many said they now had a different, more objective impression of that quickly changing republic in the Caucasus.